The significance and imprint of SMEs as dominant employers is not proportionally reflected in people management scholarship. In an effort to map out the prospects for greater understanding, this paper critically evaluates the prevailing understanding in HRM. First, a case is made for definitional clarity to avoid aggregate interpretations of SMEs and ill-defined applications of HRM. The paper then explores four key theoretical frames of reference, namely universalism, best fit, cultural and ecological theories, highlighting their merits and limitations as applied in the SME context. This assessment results in a call for more holistic, integrative and context sensitive theory and research to understand the dynamics of talent management in an SME context. This provides a pathway to better capture, and inform, the realities of practice in this area.

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